by Matthew Falduto
Marion – Ordinary Days is an intimate musical, chronicling the lives of four young people who maneuver through their ordinary lives.Giving Tree Theater chose this as their ‘trust us’ show after giving audiences a plethora of well known plays and musicals. Audiences will find their trust well placed as Ordinary Days as directed by Traci Rezabeck is a charmingly funny show.
As Ordinary Days is a sung-through show, which means every bit of dialogue is sung, its songs are by necessity more narrative than metaphoric. This has a tendency to make the melodies somewhat repetitive. However, all four actors do a wonderful job of acting the songs rather than simply singing them, which makes the lyric engaging and fun.
The story focuses on two pairs of people – Jason and Claire, a romantic couple who have decided to move in together, and Deb and Warren, two very different individuals who connect and impact each other’s lives.
The show opens with Warren (Jay Burken), handing out handbills with inspirational sayings to the audience. For instance, mine said: “Change your socks and perspective daily.” Warren doesn’t have a regular job, is a bit of a free spirit, and an eternal optimist. His opposite number is Deb (Emma Drtina) who has her life all planned out… until she doesn’t… leading her to the most common refuge of the really smart but directionless adult… grad school.
Burken is wonderfully charming as Warren, immediately pulling the audience into the fun of the show. His Warren is someone we root for, sweet and kind and fallible. Drtina is an expert comedic actress, using her facial expressions, posture and line delivery to maximum effect in her creation of the character of Deb. She’s a commanding presence on stage, and I always felt a little disappointed when one of her songs ended; I wanted to hear more. When Warren and Deb meet for the first time, it’s a meeting filled with humor and insight as they challenge each other’s place in the world. Drtina and Burken have excellent chemistry and play off each other well.
Real life husband and wife Richie and Heather Akers portray Jason and Claire. Both are excellent singers, and subtly portray a couple at a crossroads trying to move forward, but finding something indefinable standing in their way. We get the feeling that Claire knows more about this obstacle, and Heather does an excellent job suggesting a quiet sadness throughout the show. Richie portrays Jason’s complete and utter love for Claire as perfectly as he shows his confusion and frustration at the walls she puts up. When that wall comes tumbling down during Heather’s stunning performance of “I’ll Be Here,” the emotional core of the show is clear to all. I’m being purposely vague to preserve the moment for audience members unfamiliar with the show, but suffice it to say it’s a profoundly beautiful moment, perhaps the finest moment in Giving Tree’s young life.
The technical aspects of the show are well done. Mary Sullivan’s lighting design supports the actors well. John Paul Schafer’s compact set design is smartly simple, with a couple of walls that turn around to give us a new location. Those familiar with Giving Tree’s space will find the stage on the opposite side of the space than what they’re used to. It allows for a much more dynamic set than we’ve seen in the past and I hope Giving Tree continues to experiment with their space.
Giving Tree is taking a chance by offering a lesser known musical. Please reward their bravery. You will not be disappointed. Ordinary Days is full of heart and wonder, with four talented actors giving their all to create an extra-ordinary show.